School’s Racial Justice Project Authors Influential Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Death Row Case

New York Law School’s Racial Justice Project wrote an amicus brief in support of Texas death row inmate Duane Buck, whose case was recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case concerned whether Buck, who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to death, was entitled to a new sentencing hearing due to ineffective representation by his defense team. At his prior sentencing hearing, Buck’s attorneys had presented an expert witness who stated that Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had denied a new sentencing hearing. Buck then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on February 22 found in his favor in a high-profile 6-2 decision.

The Racial Justice Project submitted the amicus brief on behalf of the National Black Law Students Association; the brief was co-submitted with the Georgetown Law Center’s Civil Rights Clinic. It documented dozens of historic and current sources tracing the cultural evolution of racial bias.

“The most rigorous cognitive and psychological scientific research of the last sixty years has shown that even in our own enlightened modern times, vast segments of society hold the belief that Blacks and Whites inhabit different moral universes,” the brief argued.

It cited a 2016 public poll revealing that “a shockingly high number of people of all political stripes described Blacks as unintelligent, lazy, violent, and criminal.”

“So, when an expert witness told the jury that Mr. Buck was dangerous because he is Black, he dredged up into the open for all members of the jury to see the monstrous specter that is never far from the surface: the violent Black brute, the single most fearful, dehumanizing, and cruel stereotype Black people have had to endure. In doing so, he did not just make a passing reference to race; he made race the central question for determining whether Mr. Buck should be put to death. This is constitutionally and morally indefensible.” 

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Buck is entitled to a new sentencing hearing. 

The Racial Justice Project team included Professor Deborah Archer, Professor Daniel Warshawsky, Christian Arndt 2L Two-Year J.D. Honors Program, Chris DeLong 2L Two-Year J.D. Honors Program, Jordan Eyal 2L Two-Year J.D. Honors Program, Adreama Mackey-Ponte 1L Two-Year J.D. Honors Program, and Venessa Marston 3L Evening. The Racial Justice Project has filed amicus briefs in seven U.S. Supreme Court cases.

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More Information

  • Read the amicus brief here.
  • Read the U.S. Supreme Court opinion here.